The Lovechild of Discovery and Outline Writing Styles

Feb 17, 2010

According to hearsay, Stephen King sits down to write his books with just an idea, and away he goes, writing and rewriting. Orson Scott Card is said to spend months outlining and worldbuilding, then lock himself in an office and write the book in a matter of weeks. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but it’s an interesting look at the contrasting ways different writers formulate their stories– discovery versus outline.

I, for example, am the lovechild of the two. I have to start each and every piece with a broad plot outline, fairly complete world, and moderately defined characters. Then, I start to write, and everything changes. Okay, not everything, but as I write, I learn things about my world, characters, and stories that I didn’t even know were there.

A few nights ago, I sat drumming my fingers across my keyboard, unsure of where to go next. Then, I began typing, and to my surprise, my character walked out the door to a place I didn’t realize existed in my world to meet another character I had no idea was there. To boot, it was his own father. In the course of one scene, I had discovered intricate nuances of the world’s culture, realized my character had a deep conflict, and found that my plot was suddenly thicker than I had known. It was awesome.

Of course, it makes for a lot of rewriting, but I don’t mind that. My husband laughs at me every time I make a comment like, “Ooh, I just found out that my character has a tumor that’s caused by the radiation emitted by a strange rock on his world, but he won’t tell anyone because it’s a sign that he’s damned by the Gods!” Not that that’s exactly what happened, but you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t. My husband doesn’t– he always wants to know, if the story is in my head, how is it that I didn’t know that already?

That’s the fun of discovery writing– it is in my head, I just have to find it. But for me, at least, I’ve got to have that outline there first, or there’s not as much to discover.

So what’s your preferred style– discovery, outline, lovechild, or something else? What do you find are the pros and cons? Let’s discuss!


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